Top tips to help HR managers to manage return to the office conflicts

conflict resolution

As we emerge from COVID lockdowns, there are a growing number of discussions between employers and employees who want to continue working from home. Many people I have spoken with have indicated that they are dreading having to deal with these conversations. Some feel under-skilled to deal with the level of emotion and conflict that is expected. Others struggle with how to enforce a policy that they don’t themselves agree with.

In this article, I share my tip tips to assist in having these conversations with confidence.

Tip 1 – Be clear on your goal

Consider whether your goal should be to manage the relationship between the company and the employee rather than to negotiate an outcome. The way you manage the conversation can mean that, even if the employee remains unsatisfied with the outcome, they can be satisfied with the conversation they have had and they can feel respected.

A good conversation can be the difference between protecting and damaging the company’s reputation.

Tip 2 – Make time to listen

One thing guaranteed to leave an employee disgruntled is to demonstrate a complete unwillingness to hear why flexibility is so important to them. If you fail to make time to listen to the employee, you almost certainly will leave them feeling upset or angry at being ignored.  Even where you can’t do much to change the situation, taking the time to hear the employee’s perspective can be important in preserving the relationship they have with the company – and with you!  It may also be possible that there are other solutions you can find when you understand their concerns.

Tip 3 – Ask questions

By asking questions and listening carefully to the answers you demonstrate empathy for the employee by helping by demonstrating this empathy you help them feel heard and minimise the risk of them feeling ignored and undervalued.

Asking open questions about the impact of flexibility for them and what they are looking for are the start. Rather than telling them your perspective, good questions can limit the risk that they will instantly disagree with anything you tell them just because you are seen as being “on the company’s side”.

Tip 4 – Consider the stress

Remember that this has been a period of increased stress levels for many people. The uncertainty, the disruption and the loneliness of COVID have in increased the day-to-day stress levels of many people. What we’ve been seeing during this time is that people are responding to difficult situations in ways that they normally wouldn’t. Emotions are spilling over at a higher rate. And people may behave in ways that they wouldn’t normally do.

It is important to recognise this stress and perhaps give the benefit of the doubt to staff who are coming across as particularly aggressive or demanding.

There is no doubt that there will be many difficult conversations about how much time staff members should or shouldn’t spend in the office and what the new work week will look like. Do not hesitate to reach out.